Inside the Capitol

Friday, June 02, 2006

6-05Primary Campaigns MIA

MON, 6-05-06

SANTA FE -- The 2006 primary election campaign did not produce the excitement it promised. A ballot filled with former state officials and political pros gave indications of some real humdingers, but most races ended up missing in action.
The only exception has been the Democrat attorney general race. Gary King, a former candidate for governor and Congress, entered the race with high name recognition and the nod as frontrunner.
But insiders knew energetic, young Geno Zamora would make a big splash, likely with the quiet backing of Gov. Bill Richardson, for whom Zamora served as chief legal counsel until he jumped into the AG race. And then there was hardworking District Attorney Lemuel Martinez, who hustled around the state from the very beginning.
Zamora led the pack in fundraising and got far enough ahead that King reportedly had to inject $100,000 of his own money. Martinez's chief financial support has come from a sister who is a part owner of the Colorado Rockies baseball team. The three have split political endorsements from newspapers around the state.
The secretary of state race, featuring two former holders of that office and the Bernalillo County clerk has been off the radar screen. Endorsements have been split. Fundraising has been fairly equal. Any of the four candidates could win and without any public polls, no one can be sure which one.
The state land commissioner race, between two former commissioners, hasn't been the barnburner most thought it would be. Both commissioners are big on the environment, so there has been little controversy over policy issues. It appears Jim Baca has the advantages and disadvantages of Gov. Richardson's support.
Ray Powell was an appointee of former Gov. Bruce King. Richardson and the Kings have never been close. That race will heat up in the general election, with the winner facing incumbent Patrick Lyons, the only Republican state office holder.
The only contested statewide Republican race is for the opportunity to challenge Sen. Jeff Bingaman in November. Three candidates lined up for the opportunity, each talking big, but none has made much of a showing yet.
Allen McCulloch, a Farmington urologist, has raised enough money to buy some TV time, but has chosen not to do so. David Pfeffer, a former Santa Fe city councilor, got some good ink walking the border with Mexico, but that's been about it. State Sen. Joe Carraro, of Albuquerque, says the money will start rolling in as soon as he wins the primary, but so far, that hasn't raised much interest.
Anyone getting ready to challenge an incumbent U.S. senator needs to be getting big doses of name recognition by this time, but that isn't happening. The problem is that so few Republicans vote in primary elections that it is much more cost effective to just mail to likely Republican primary voters. That will win the battle for one of the candidates, but doesn't do much toward winning the war in November.
GOP chances don't look any better in the gubernatorial race. There is just one candidate, but Republicans aren't uniting behind him. Few can even remember his name. J.R. Damron, a Santa Fe radiologist, only raised $285,000 in the first reporting period, while Gov. Bill Richardson was raking in nearly $7 million.
To make matters worse, only $95,000 of Damron's money came from people other than the candidate himself. Amateur baseball has a "mercy rule" that ends a ball game when one team is 10 runs ahead at the end of an inning. Politics should have a mercy rule when one candidate has raised 70 times that of his opponent.
It doesn't appear the national GOP will get involved in either the U.S. Senate or gubernatorial race this year. Republicans have had good luck winning with doctors nationally but New Mexico's efforts don't seem to have made the grade.
So we may be looking at the lowest turnout election in the state's history -- a primary in which even TV stations haven't made much money.



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